Saturday, October 7, 2017

You Can Always Order Pizza


So, I love cooking.
You probably know this, as you've probably read here there or everywhere about the various cooking exploits I've been on on my own and with my wonderful SO.

I spend a fair amount of time mining the internet for new recipes and stuff, and so I read food blogs and food sections of papers and magazines.

Today, I read this.
In which an intrepid reporter from Chicago magazine has Grant Achatz, yes, THE, yes he of the 3 Michelin stars (that's hard to do in Europe let alone the U.S.) help her with a dinner party.

It's a great article, and a lot of that is in a bit of schadenfreude, I spose, and relating with someone who is nervous around people sometimes. During the course of her time with the chef, she frets about how he'll perceive her and the things she already has in her house, if he'll be stern and a taskmaster, and proceeds to drop a pepper grinder in a bowl of cream as well as grate herself (which I do more than I'd care to admit) and cut herself.

Achatz has accomplished a lot. And first off, he could've felt "above" this sort of story and not done it, and second, he could have done it and not been whole-hog with it. But the whole time he's a calming presence, even forming a sort of eye-rolling-but-in-good-fun role for himself that endears me to him, even having never met him.

He still does what he does and teaches, helping her every step of the way, but he makes himself unimportant and unintimidating. I *love* people like this, and there are far too few of them. People that can shake off the bonds of their fame and just be people are the best kind of people to have fame, if you ask me.

Anyway, the deal was he shops with her, emails her, and then the day of, helps her to a point til he has to go back to Alinea, to, y'know, run a 3 Michelin star restaurant in one of the largest cities in the US. Cuz...well, important.

In any case, one of the things that stuck with me on this was how the author finishes the story.
Because of course, you're wondering if somehow, in that last stretch without him there, she's gonna somehow ruin everything (the way that you feel like you would, if you're like me)

Everyone loves everything despite even  her perceived errors, like overbaking the dessert a bit.

But in the end she remembers Achatz consoling her in a moment of panic by saying that if everything is awful, "You can always order pizza!"

I love it.

On so many levels. I think of Michelin star chefs sometimes as these battle axe sort of people, who are unrelenting, exacting, precise and unforgiving of mistakes, from themselves and the people under them. And that's there, or else they wouldn't be getting the accolades they do. Consistency and precision are key to that sort of craft so that what you put out one day is still what people taste five months from now should they order it.

But as serious as he is about food, and about cooking...if it doesn't work? Fine. Order pizza.

It reminds me to chill the hell out when I'm stressing about whatever it is I'm stressing about.

Because really. You can always order pizza.

It's not to say not to be precise or not to try your hardest to do things as best as you can.
It is to say that if something goes wrong, maybe try not to beat yourself up about it and move on.
Learn from it, sure, but then just...keep on' keepin' on.
And order pizza.

So that's my thought of the day, followed by my sleep of the night.
Now I want pizza.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Filthy Stovetop


The other day, I was angrily cleaning the dishes and stewing in my own angry-juices. I'd lost my head, so to speak.

I was mad for a variety of reasons, one of the simplest being that nobody.scrubs.the.damn.stovetop.and.black.shows.everything.PEOPLE!

Seriously though. People buy black cars and black bikes and whatever and think "it'll hide the dirt!"
Except dirt isn't black, at least not much of it. Potting soil is, but usually your home isn't coated in that. Unless you're a tulip or a very serious and disorganized gardening addict.

I cook a lot, so I couldn't even exclude myself from my own anger. Things build up, and after a week or so, the stovetop goes from racy black shiny to cruddy icky please don't take a picture of that. (Note that I have not.)

Thing is, too, that maybe, had anyone (including myself) scrubbed the damned surface after they cooked just once, swipe swipe swipe and done, it wouldn't get that way at all. Take 2 minutes extra now, save the carnage of scraping soaking and picking food particles out from under your burners, which by the way? Pretty gross.

At the time though, I was mad about no one helping. Sometimes, it feels like I'm solely responsible for the daily swiping, as it were. Like if I do 23 loads of dishes by hand and put them all away, then buy myself a pint of ice cream and leave the ice cream spoon in the sink, if someone else makes themselves eggs the next morning one of two things will happen:

1) a big pile of egg dishes plus the spoon
2) egg dishes all done, but the spoon is still dirty in the sink.

It's frustrating.

I kept thinking: If you pass through the kitchen and you see a stack of dishes and you think "man, that's a lot of dirty dishes" or "man, the floor is dirty as hell" but you just keep walking and going about your own life, well...there's the problem.

Everyone's busy busy all the time, work and life and whatnot. But one thing I'm finding out more and more in the realm of taking care of a house and family is that really, if things don't pile up on one person, and you take about five minutes out of your own time to help every day, then no one feels like they're an ox yoked to a cart full of lead. (weirdly biblical reference? No idea why.)

Vacuuming the whole upstairs takes about ...15 minutes? Emptying the litter boxes and redoing them? 10. Taking the trash out to the cans just right outside the front door, including time to replace the bag? About 2 minutes. Seriously.

Once I finished the dishes and the stovetop, I'd calmed down but I thought about the stovetop more metaphorically.

We can't just help ourselves. We can't just expect people to do things for us. We can't expect anyone to be the first to break the ice, we can't wait for others to do the right thing. We need to do it. Don't wait to be asked to hang out more. If there's a friend in your life that you don't see enough, regardless of who contacted who last and how that interaction went, if it's important enough to cross your mind, then just do the contacting.

If you see a problem, don't act like you're Janeway observing a pre-warp civilization from afar, get involved!


(Side note: I love Janeway, just in this example don't be Janeway.)

I thought about some family members I know (Mine and other people's) and how they're hurting because of each other. Each waits for the other to make it right. Both say they want it to be right. But no one's DOING anything.

Just because you say you want to see someone more doesn't make you get out there and see them. You say you're gonna have more time, we're totally gonna do that, you'll see!
But you don't. And maybe there's good reasons, maybe there's real stuff. I missed my friend coming in from Seattle recently because I got really sick and then had to cover Wizard World for 4 days straight.

But don't rest on self-righteousness. I was sick, I was working...but I still forgot to call him and say something. So, I'm making an effort now to apologize and do better. Incidentally, I'm going to Seattle soon and will hopefully be seeing him there.

Family that supports each other does something that families that don't don't do: They don't wait.
They don't keep scoreboards of when the other wasn't there to help them.
They just act.
Someone's hurt or isolated...let's go!

We're not entitled to each other's time or friendship. We're not magically going to have a good family or friend life if we don't actively try to make it that way.

I know this because I don't do the things I'm saying we need to do all the time and it hurts me and it hurts the people I love.

But sometimes, a filthy stovetop reminds me that we could work together, and with just a little effort on each end, make things easier and better for everyone.

I don't know who all is reading this, but I encourage you to take action.
This is important. We can't count on everyone to do anything for us. We can't expect that some time in the future, our relatives are going to stop being the way they are and reach out, our friends are going to get less busy or have a less weird schedule.

Why can't we set up a once a week call with our sisters (Shan, I say this because I'm about to institute it)
Why can't we at least answer a text within a day of getting it if the person's at all someone we want in our life?
Why can't we pick an "inconvenient" time for coffee and just go see our friend we haven't seen in a few years?

It has value. It adds value. It's worth the cost.

And in the meantime? Take out the trash. Sweep the floor. Do the dishes. Help where you live.
It means more than you know.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Night at the Nerdlesque


This weekend was the 5th Annual Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival. I've been to all but one of these nerdy affairs, covering them for Chicagoist and now Third Coast Review. I can usually make it to at least a night or two, and this year attended Thursday and Saturday nights. One thing I've missed in years past (mostly due to expiring parking or just a long drive home ahead of me) were the nerd burlesque shows that the festival always features. 

Up til this year, the only true live burlesque I'd seen was a special show at the bar I frequented back in Socorro, NM. It was a great time, but I think I got even more out of this. 

For one thing, back then, I was a bit younger and a bit less likely to express all of who I am. For another, this is nerdlesque. Nerds are my people and I am theirs. And really...it's sexy dancing Voldemort. How bizarre/amusing/unusual is that?

But it's more than what's at face value, and so was the "straight up" burlesque show I saw earlier. 
The crazy thing to me in both cases was how good it made ME feel about ME. Burlesque is such a positive experience, or at least has been for me. Nerdlesque was doubly so, because it allows you to laugh at yourself while also navigating a part of yourself that can be harder to let out or address. 

I love the talent and openness involved, and I love that it's the art of the tease. 
You won't get to see everything, and that's ok. It's about leaving the desire for more. Talented burlesque performers can hold an audience's attention simply by way of confidence. They can make being Voldemort alluring, somehow. They're not necessarily Victoria's Secret Angels or Greek Gods of men, but they don't have to be, because what they show you, what burlesque shows you, is that sexy is from within. 

Sexy is about individualism, and about feeling it yourself and then projecting it out there. It's about you as a person and how you interact with other people. And the best kind of sexy is the kind that makes other people feel like they could be sexy too. 
That's what I learned at the nerdlesque show. 



So I'm passing it on to you. 
Confident is sexy. Unique is sexy. YOU are sexy, you nerdy little thing you! Celebrate who and what you are. We all should do that more. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Stand Up


I've always had a hard time with confrontation. I think most people, at the core, do.
There were a lot of times in my life I looked back on and thought "Man, I was a total doormat there."
I've erred in the opposite direction too, where I "stood up" for myself by making EVERYTHING an issue, which is something I still struggle with from time to time.

It's hard to know when to speak up sometimes.
It's hard to speak up even when you know you should sometimes.

I feel like there are a lot of people right now that probably feel that way in regards to the national problems we're facing, but some of the things that prompted me to blog this today are much closer to home, in my working environment.

I don't like causing division. I don't like to feel "against" anyone and I don't like stirring the pot. But the truth of the matter is that if you leave the pot to sit on its own, then things blacken and everything becomes bitter from the bottom up. You need to stir and not settle before that happens.

There's room to be understanding, to see if you're coming from a place of pride or competition or whatever, but if you can examine it long enough and realize it's not that, then you need to take action. This post is mostly about me having to deal with a work situation I didn't want to deal with and being afraid of the fallout from it, both in my personal life, with people I consider friends, and in my working life, with people that are colleagues and peers.

I have a hard time with the concept of "righteous anger" if you want to use a semi-religious term, too. I feel like being angry is wrong, and to be honest, I feel that way when I'm not the angry one too, and fail to realize there's a good reason to be angry, and there are healthy ways to be angry. There's damn toxic ones too, but there ARE reasons to express anger and ways to do it that aren't harmful.

And I'm angry. I'm angry when I am faced with conflict where there should be cooperation. I'm angry when people eschew communication, blatantly ignore others attempts at it, and fail to do anything but assert their authority. It creates a bad environment for everyone, and it makes working together harder. This is especially frustrating when it creates extra divisions, delays projects, and intimidates others, and that's what it's doing.

As far as next steps...I'm not too sure.
But one thing I want to make clear?
I'm standing up for myself now. I will not be condescended to by my peers, and I will not be scolded like a child by people who abuse their position.
I'm going to stand up.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Somewhat Unadvertised Confession


So. Yesterday. Yesterday, I took a bath. A good long soak, longer than necessary. And I looked in the mirror for a good long time. One of the traits about myself that's not so great, I'm told, is my unwillingness to look in a mirror for long.

I'm all for body acceptance, loving who you are, feeling good in your own skin and whatever other good things you can do, but I have a hard time putting it into practice. A cursory glance tells me at least I don't have spinach in my teeth and my hair isn't THE MOST crazy or whatnot, and then I'm good. If I'm doing winged eyeliner or something, I'll look more, because come on, have you ever tried evening out both sides? But other than that, I'm not great about just...looking. It makes me uncomfortable talking about it, even. Like, ugh, am I talking about looking at myself...like my whole self? That seems wrong or inappropriate to talk about. But it's me, and it's me looking at MY self. It's mine. Shouldn't I know what it's like now?

To my surprise, I didn't hate all the things. There were things I'd like to take action on, for sure, but I didn't  hate all the things. And I stood there longer. And I looked, and I thought, and I wished, for once, that I could learn to like even the things I currently hate. And to maybe, maybe rock myself out the way I really would like to. There are people much bigger and much smaller than me that have a much bigger slice of the confidence pie, and I'd like to go back and get some more. I'd like to really really feel good about me. I need to work on that.

I looked in a more metaphorical mirror lately, and unfortunately, I'm kinda seeing that picture I used as the lead. I have, it seems, fallen into a depression. There's some underlying stuff there, like work stuff, people I've lost touch with, relationship struggles...and there's some stuff that came from it that made it worse, like avoiding stuff as simple as showers and sunshine, and neglecting stuff I should be doing, which piles on the guilt, which makes it more insurmountable. I've talked to the SO about it, and I mentioned it in a more public way tonight. It's not dire, and I know depression lies, but it makes you think a lot, too.

The bad things I feel are hopelessness in some areas of my life- like I can't change the things I want to change, like trying makes it worse, like failing is a reminder of how already bad at things I was.

There's fear- that I can't change myself, that I can't change the bad interactions, and fear that comes from hurting. Fear that I'm alienating myself from people, fear that people are starting to or already did not like me, fear that I can't repair relationships with people I'd like to, or build something better with people.

There's a lack of energy and excitement for the future. I try to set goals of things to look forward to, even if they're small, because it helps me feel...better, more secure and happy. Like, for example, I am looking forward to finally getting around to seeing Rogue One. Lately though, those things get put off, a lot of the times by me, and I feel like I'm floating aimlessly. And I want to do things, but I don't.

So I'm confessing. I'm struggling. I'm not super happy. I feel a little like I lost my way and on top of that don't really feel like digging in and finding it.

I don't feel like posting this after writing it because if I do I'm admitting all this, and that seems...not great? But I'm gonna post it.

Because maybe someone else out there feels that way. In fact, I know someone else out there feels that way. And maybe we can be hope for each other, maybe even just a little.

I feel like a lump of useless, but I have to believe that that's not all I am.
And neither are you.

Home Is Where...


I'm dogsitting this weekend, a few miles away from where I actually live. I do it fairly often for some family friends, and it's a good arrangement. It helps them out, and I am close enough to not have to be super gone from the house, so I can still help and come home from dinner and do whatever else might be necessary.

As I was leaving after late dinner last night to go back to the dogsitting job for the night, I said "ok, I"m going home now."

In the car on the way home, I realized that my concept of home is pretty fluid. More fluid than I even realized. Through the years, I've had all these dreams of places I wanted to live later on down the road. A big part of me loved Chicago SO much and wanted the city life- no need for a car, more activities than you could possibly even attend, all kinds of cultures and restaurants and that amazing vibrancy. I get some of that with Chicagoist and Third Coast.

Some part of me wanted to live deep in the woods, too though. All hidden away, somewhere serene. Maybe by the water.

When I lived in a small town, I was all about knowing everyone in the shops and bar and being a part of a community the way I was. My time in Socorro was fantastic because it was so small. I knew everyone. I knew everyone's kids. I knew when they got dental surgery and who was bringing them soup and taking their kids to the zoo. I knew who I'd face in the pool tourneys on Sundays and I attended unofficial "American Gladiator reboot" viewings with friends at the bar on a slow night.

And ok, obvious statement. To no one's surprise, I want to live in New Mexico again. It stole my heart and my soul and nothing feels as good as the open expanses of the desert, the mountains greeting you every morning, the sage and juniper after the rain, and the feeling of sunshine just sitting on your shoulders, naked and intense. I want that again.

But when I look at it, and the more I explore, the more I see that one of my strengths, and the reason I love travel, is because I can find a life I want almost anywhere. I don't want to move farther north, but when I was in Minneapolis and its suburbs, I could envision the kind of path I'd carve for myself- from weekends in Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka to exploring more of the culture in Minneapolis, and hours and hours at Mia (because it's worth it, so much!)

I love Seattle, and could see myself just as easily somewhere around the sound, taking the ferry in to explore the amazing, laid back world that is Seattle. Seattle is so chill and unique. I love its seaside vibe, I love its "hip but not douchey" feel, and I love its...non city cityness.

And really? Sometimes I lust for a chance to live the IN Chicago life. Since I work for Chicago publications, most everyone I work with lives in the city limits. Different neighborhoods with different flair. I wish for the fluency and confidence with public transportation, the endless venues and concerts and things I could just be at. The chance to always be able to explore every square foot and to really be able to call it my own. I want that excitement, that energy. I want to be able to be home when I'm there sometimes instead of having to go home from there (and not just because the commute sucks.)

When I'm in Door County, I imagine this crazy tourist season and the fun I could have doing something involving it - writing about it, photographing the scenery/activity, but then in the off season, feeling isolated and cozy in a way you only can in a small place like that when winter sets in. Suddenly it's you and the real residents and a winter of solitude in a still-gorgeous place. Maybe you have to plan ahead a little more, but you make it work.

I'm not the world's most confident person, but I think I could make a home most anywhere. I don't like change, and even though I have moved cross country before, I don't think it'd be that much easier changing locale so drastically, but when it comes down to it, one thing I pride myself on is being able to change my definition of home. I feel like home is the people I love, somewhere safe I can curl up at night and come back to and a door I can close to the world when I need to, but other than that? Wherever life takes me, I feel like I can blaze a path and make it my own.

And that gives me hope.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Char Siu Bao and Trying Again



We made these yesterday. And it was arduous, lemme tell you, but we made these.
First off, it's part of our 52 weeks of cooking challenge, which I've written (and even performed) about.
Second, I hadn't even had bao at all (or dim sum) prior to this May, when my bestie and I attended her brother's 50th birthday party and we went to an awesome dim sum place in Chicago. We had a great time learning about it, eating it, and then feeling bad about how much we ate on the way home.

So when it came up on the challenges, I immediately knew I wanted to do steamed buns (bao)
I was really excited about it, but then I got to my research phase and found that a cook I really admire (whose name I will withhold here, just cuz) had said they couldn't find a successful recipe and to buy the bun stuff frozen.

I'll admit here that sometimes I'm a bit lazy. I was inclined to just take it as a cautionary tale and not even try. Which likely, in our area, as littered with stores as it is, could have ended up taking hours more, since I'd have had to hunt the depths of our grocery stores for the dough, which should be "available at any store" but around here, even with the diversity of ethnic groups, doesn't hold true.

I did more research and found a recipe I knew was legit, and we set off.

Our first batch did not work. Dough seized up. We've had a rough as hell week between leftover schedule upset from the flooding, the toilet having issues and having to be re-installed due to flooding, thrown backs, lots of work deadlines, migraines and more. It's been *real* special, in that I hate life way.

I was tempted to throw in the towel (Oh yeah, and like, 40 loads of laundry to clean towels from the flood and then again the same ones from the toilet install. Right, and it rained and stuff torrentially just recently AFTER the floods. And so.)

But we decided, sleep deprived and weary though we were, that we were just gonna try one more time. So we did.

And it still didn't look like it'd work. But after the 1.5 hour first rise, 30 minute second rise, and 45 minute final rise (and after rolling 50 teeny little balls meticulously and then flattening them out just as meticulously)...

IT FREAKING WORKED.

Perfectly.

I did not expect it and I am over the moon about it. I really thought we'd have spent something like 6 hours on it and just have to go to the store and get frozen ones and feel bad.

They were springy and cooked through and soft and warm and stuff, and it was awesome.

Couple that with an amazing char siu pork that we'd also spent hours making, some pickles I mixed up, and scallions, and we had a freaking fantastic meal at home I'd have paid good money for.

So why am I blogging at you all about this?

I have reasons. Reasons that taught me things, folks.

Because, first...we needed a win after all this random upset.
Second, because sometimes it takes longer to be lazy than it does to actually just do things the right way. And being lazy backfires, too.
Third, because have a little faith in yourself, and don't be scared to try something someone else failed, no matter who they are.
Fourth...well...putting in the time pays off. And hard work can make you happy.

I'm gonna try and take this into the working week.
And the writing life.

Happy Monday's eve, y'all.
Don't give up.